Food and Acne: Can What You Eat Cause Pimples?

Having suffered with cystic acne from the age of 12 through 18, I understand all too well the pain and disfigurement associated with chronic boils, blackheads and whiteheads. After staining your face with angry, lumpy blobs of red, they leave your skin pockmarked and your pores permanently enlarged… and the cycle never ends. As a teen, I washed my face daily; slathered benzoyl peroxide creams (including the highly touted Proactiv) all over it; smeared my skin with alcohol, salycilic acid, oatmeal, sulfuric soap – anything to relieve myself of this curse that plagued me, ruined my self esteem and forced me to sleep on my back to avoid putting pressure on my swollen cysts and boils. It became pretty evident after a few years of this that my acne was an internal problem, and that no amount of topical solutions were going to penetrate into the cells of my body and put a stop to the torment. My dermatologist informed me that my problem was hormone-related, but was never able to prescribe anything – including tetracyclines – that made any difference whatsoever in my acne. Finally, upon turning 18, I took the ultimate pimple treatment – two full courses of Accutane (isotretinoin) therapy, which eventually put an end to the cysts and significantly reduced minor pimple eruptions (though there was no long-term change in the amount of blackheads I had, which were predominantly across my nose). The treatment had worked by essentially shrinking my sebaceous glands and limiting the amount of sebum to be trapped in my pores leading to cysts, and over time most of my scars vanished and my gaping pores decreased in size a bit.

What I didn’t realize was that I could have controlled my acne through simple diet changes, despite the fact that most sources I encountered – including my own dermatologist – told me that what a person eats does not have any relationship to pimple and cyst outbreaks. But if you consider that acne is indeed caused by internal imbalances, and that the quality of the food a person ingests does have a direct effect on how well their body functions, why in the world would anyone suggest that food (particularly sugar, meat and milk) can’t cause a person to break out? It’s true that some people can be morbidly obese and live on bon-bons and ice cream yet not have a pimple in sight, and I imagine that’s part of the reason people assume their is no relationship between food and acne. But though we as humans share the same basic needs and anatomical structure, the ways our bodies “deal” with and eliminate toxins, poisons and non-nutritious foodstuffs are extremely different from person to person. For instance, some people who subsist only on candy bars will store the excess sugar, fat and chemicals in the form of fat pockets; some folks will remain relatively thin, but will have poor muscle tone, pallor and oily skin eruptions (this was me); and there’s those that will look perfectly healthy for years on this diet, but may end up with any number of long-term disorders later in life such as liver and gallbladder disease, blood sugar imbalances, and even cancer. A person’s body will instinctively do its best to expel unwanted matter created within it from food and the excessive amounts of hormones produced by the ingestion of sugary products, but the way it does so is unique with every individual; but in a general sense, if the body can’t remove these poisons “properly” (through natural sweating, urination and excretion) it will take other less pleasant routes (acne, boils, oily skin, dandruff), and if it can’t remove them at all, it will very often convert these toxins into tumors deep within the body.

In my teen years, my diet was a mix of good and bad. My mom almost always prepared a nutritionally balanced meal for dinner, but what I ate before then during school and during my late-night kitchen raids was heavy in sugar, fat and simple carbs. I was also drinking non-organic milk and eating non-organic meat, both of which are heavily laden with antibiotics, steroids and (gasp) hormones, which only added to the hormonal imbalance issue I faced. But again, I had no idea that these things were causing my misery, and I didn’t realize this until around the age of 24 – when I first became interested in powerful natural healing therapies such as juice fasting, probiotic supplementation and raw vegan eating. After discovering the therapeutic value of fresh fruit and vegetable juices due to their heavy concentrations of vitamins, enzymes and anti-oxidants, I was able to finally truly turn my life around without the need for a prescription (and potentially dangerous) medication such as Accutane, which could have done more harm than good in the long run since it almost eliminated my body’s predominant method of eliminating excess poisons and chemicals – through pimples. I suspected that the symptoms I had been experiencing in the years since taking Accutane – bloating, chronic fatigue, digestive problems, liver pain and even mental dysfuntion – could be the result of my body’s decreased detox capabilities, and the fact that as an adult I acquired new addictions besides food (nicotine, alcohol, drugs, etc.) that loaded my body with even MORE garbage made the situation worse! I was experiencing toxin overload, and my organs were heavily burdened by my poor lifestyle choices… and it showed, painfully so.

And so I, being of an all-or-nothing mentality, did some research, some soul-searching, and plunged into my first juice fast. Armed with a cheap plastic juicer that had been used maybe twice in 20 years (yes, it was that old), I spent a ridiculous amount of time each day fighting and forcing this poor imitation of a juicer to extract as much vital juice from my organic fruit and veggies, marveling at the amount of moist, wasted vegetable pulp it left in its wake… but I went through the routine consistently and forced myself not to give up, reading blogs daily about people who had undergone juice fasting and some of the symptoms they experienced, comparing theirs to mine, and educating myself as much as possible on the detoxification process. In a nutshell, I experienced hunger/cravings, headaches, fatigue, cold symptoms (runny nose, sneezing, excess mucus production) and dizziness upon standing for the first few days; I developed a few skin rashes and had a small acne flare-up, and my bloating and fatigue actually worsened at first. I stuck with it and drank plenty of water in between juice meals, performed daily enemas (which was not fun to get the hang of, but worth it) to speed up the elimination of poison from my blood and help relieve the unpleasant detox symptoms, and even kept a daily diary of my experience (which I will be posting soon) to help keep me motivated during the fast. Gradually, my hunger and cravings decreased, as well as the bloating and fatigue, though the excess mucus and sneezing remained a bit longer; and my skin became smoother and tighter, free of pimples, with even the blackheads that had dotted my nose consistently for years even finally disappearing. Now I was really stoked on fasting and smartly decided to invest around $200 in a high-powered Champion juicer with a centrifuge specially designed to squeeze and mash every last bit of juice from produce quickly and efficiently. I could now juice my produce effortlessly in about a minute as opposed to 15, with no wasted pulp, knowing that I had reaped the maximum amount of vitamins and enzymes from my fruit and vegetables without the juice sitting for minutes and losing potency due to air oxidization while I squeezed out the rest from my juicer.

Ever since, I’ve alternated juice fasts with a nearly completely raw vegan diet, avoiding cooking my food as much as possible due to the fact that the heating process destroys essential enzymes and vitamins and turns them into free radicals within the body – just more poison to pump out. I was able to beat my other addictions as well over time, and the combination of fewer toxins being dumped into my body, more healing and detoxifying foods being ingested and my detoxification channels being improved has kept my skin completely free of pimples, whiteheads and blackheads. In addition to learning the importance of detoxification and healthy diet, I’ve come to understand a little more about the food digestion process, and that a good deal of the acne I suffered as a kid came from the fact that I wasn’t digesting my food well. Food that wasn’t being digesting properly was sitting in my gut for too long, fermenting and producing toxins and free radicals that tried to escape my body in the form of zits and cysts. I more than likely had an imbalance of the good flora in my gut due to years of antibiotic therapy for chronic tonsillitis and other conditions as a child; what I needed was a good probiotic, such as Enzymatic or AccuFlora, to replenish the beneficial stomach bacteria (including lactobacillus and bifidobacterium) in my stomach and intestines that properly digests food. Probiotics can be found naturally in yogurt and other cultured products like kim chee, but it’s important to ensure that all dairy products bought for consumption are organic (to avoid antibiotics and hormones present in non-organic milk) and as low in sugar as possible, since bad stomach bacteria like candida thrives on sugar. Stonyfield Farm is my personal favorite. If you pick the wrong yogurt, the beneficial bacteria naturally present in it will be essentially destroyed by the antibiotic content and the sugar-fed bad bacteria already present in your gut, making it pointless to eat in the interest of balancing your stomach flora. It’s not hard to make your own yogurt right at home either with a good probiotic starter (like Yogourmet) and/or yogurt maker.

My overall experience in battling acne (and pretty much any other malady or disease) is that there is no quick-fix solution, and any remedy claiming to be a quick fix will end up doing more damage than good in the long run one way or another. The only way to permanently control something like cystic acne is to make lifestyle changes. You have to know at all times what you’re putting into your body’s tissues and keep a check on your toxin overload by regular detoxification procedures. Even stress can produce excessive hormones and free radicals within the body that may choose to escape through the development of pustules and nodules, so it’s also very important to relax as much possible at all times and keep stress levels to a minimum – something that would undoubtedly require a complete change in thinking for most people, since it certainly did for me. I was naturally a high-stress, neurotic personality type who made mountains out of molehills on a daily basis, keeping myself in a state of constant agitation and no doubt inadvertently driving my hormone levels all over the map. But once I started juice fasting and eating properly, I gradually became more calm in general and developed a higher threshold for stress than I had previously, and this was due to no conscious effort on my part. I didn’t really meditate or try to take things more calmly – it just naturally came about once I stopped putting bad things into my body and began cleansing the stored up poisons still inside. I now deeply believe that the more severe your acne is, the more you need to get something bad inside of you out, and it’s highly unlikely that any

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